Royal Air Forces Escaping Society Plaque
London Newspaper Group CN/WPN 08-05-1981
The great Escaping Society meet to remember the brave
By Christopher Long
Surrounded by searchlights, under the roar of Lancaster bombers and in constant fear that they will be caught, an old man and a young girl have dressed hurriedly in the night to rescue an injured airman.
With luck and immense courage, they will succeed in hiding him in enemy occupied Europe until he can escape and return to England to fly and fight another day.
This remarkable plaque, created by sculptress Elizabeth Harrison who happens to be secretary of the Chelsea-based RAF Escaping Society, is dedicated to countless brave men and women of enemy occupied countries who helped 2,803 RAF airmen escape during World War Two.
"I think it symbolises a story that happened all the time," Elizabeth Harrison explained this week at the headquarters of the RAF Escaping Society at the Duke of York's Headquarters in King's Road.
"I did it because next month the society is organising a major reunion in London of airmen and the people who helped them get home again. And then we discovered that nowhere is there a memorial to all these people."
The plaque in fact will be unveiled in the crypt of St Clement Danes (the RAF church in The Strand) when ex-airmen and resistance workers from all over the world meet up again to remember the days when every airman was needed in the sky and not in a prison camp.
"A lot of the credit must go the Art Bronze Foundry who have given me a great deal of help. One way and another I suppose I'm quite pleased with the way it's turned out," said Mrs Harrison who had just returned from the Art Bronze Foundry in Fulham to see her clay model cast in bronze.
"I chose to do it this way because every escape story starts like this ordinary people coming to the rescue. After all, you can't really sculpt false documents."
"Then I thought that the details were very important. The old man is looking out, looking for danger and has got dressed in a hurry. His face is modelled on someone I knew myself in those days."
The girl has got the buttons of her dress done up wrongly in her hurry to get to the airman who is wearing the kit they wore in 1943. He's also wearing the special 'escape boots' they introduced in those days so that you could rip off the legging part and just leave ordinary civilian-looking shoes instead.
The girl looks back, apprehensive, brave but scared.
Mrs Harrison, herself a wartime resistance worker who has been sculpting for 10 years, knows her subject well. From her office she keeps in touch with airmen and the people who helped them escape during the war. She hears their stories, puts people in touch with each other and helps organise grants from Escaping Society funds to needy and deserving members.
Caption to original photograph:
Mrs Elizabeth Harrison, a former Resistance worker and now Secretary of the RAF Escaping Society at the Duke of York's Headquarters in King's Road, stands beside the bronze plaque which she sculpted to commemorate the men and women in wartime Europe who helped 2,803 airmen to escape back to England. It will be unveiled at St Clement Danes in June when former resistance workers and airmen re-unite in London. Pictured with her is SAS founder member, Charles West, who was himself injured when his plane crashed and escaped to join partisans on the run.
© (1981) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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